Rik Mayall: Lord of Misrule

Rik Mayall

Rik Mayall’s comic persona was a pathetic, rubber faced loser fizzing with frenetic energy and drunk on his own arrogance. This character was alive, completely unbelievable and yet somehow credible. Others may have been influenced by Mayall’s blend of complete social inadequacy and self-indulgence but he was inimitable in performance. More than that, he was contextually significant. Along with the rest of the alternative comedy movement, Mayall marked the moment that British comedy evolved, grew legs and became culturally important.

Rik Mayall: Lord of Misrule is a retrospective of the legendary comedian who died on the 9th of June this year. The documentary makes great use of the volume of archive footage of Mayall from his stand up days, through the Young Ones and the Comic Strip, Kevin Turvey, The New Statesman and his scene stealing appearances in Blackadder. And with Mayall as its subject it simply couldn’t fail.

In capturing Mayall’s public comedic persona, the documentary doesn’t put a foot wrong. But whilst there are backstage contributions from the likes of Lenny Henry, Ben Elton and Alexei Sayle among others, any real insight into his private persona is thin on the ground. Conspicious by their absence are the comedians we associate him most closely with – Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Peter Richardson, Nigel Planer and, of course, his best friend and long-term collaborator, Adrian Edmondson.

Early in production, Edmondson spoke of his decision not to be involved in the project. He felt that the whole thing was too wacky and too flippant to do Mayall any justice. You can’t help but have sympathy for his stance and he isn’t wrong. This is a flippant documentary but it’s difficult to see how it could have gone any other way. If there’s a problem with Rik Mayall, it’s just that he was too damn funny. He is incapable of inspiring unhappiness or even poignancy. He just makes you want to laugh. And really, what better compliment for a comedian is that?

Rik Mayall: Lord of Misrule will be broadcast on the 20th December at 10.05pm on BBC2.